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The Facebook Motherhood Challenge Debate

Most of us will have seen the latest ‘challenge’ doing the rounds on Facebook this week, it’s the Motherhood Challenge. It involves mums, who are nominated by their Facebook friends, posting five photos that make them proud to be a mother, before they then go on to nominate other fellow mums and challenge them to do the same.

There’s often a challenge of some sort going around on Facebook – the ice bucket challenge and the no make-up selfie challenge are two of the more popular ones from the last couple of years – but neither of those seem to have attracted the debate (I’m not sure if ‘backlash’ would be too strong a word for this, but maybe not, depending on how strong some people’s views are on the matter) that the motherhood challenge has drummed up.

So, why do people have so much to say about this photo challenge that is surely just a bit of fun? Well, it basically boils down to the fact that this challenge alienates some women, the women who are not mothers. We can all take our make up off and take a selfie, but we can’t all show off pictures of our kids, can we?

Motherhood isn’t something you should feel you have to hide

Motherhood can be a pretty touchy subject – either for women who do not have, and simply do not want, children, or for the women who desperately want, but cannot have, children. Some of the first camp – the ‘I do not want children, thanks’ crowd – can be pretty vocal about how motherhood is not for them and if they have to see one more pic of a giggling baby on Facebook, they will just vomit. I’m not sure I agree with this point of view. I have lots of friends who have children and who regularly post pics on Facebook of said children in cute/hilarious/messy situations. I don’t mind – and often like – seeing these photos as it is a massive part of their life they are sharing. Motherhood isn’t something you should hide, after all. And if I’m not in the mood for more baby pics on any particular day when I’m flicking through my news feed, I just  scroll on by. (Plus, it all evens out in the end – I’m not sure my mummy friends want to see all the pics I post of my cat Theo, but I’m a kitten momma and proud ;-) ).

Others who could perhaps be negatively affected by the motherhood challenge are the women who are not mothers but who desperately want to be. And the thought of these women feeling alienated over the latest challenge is the thing that truly upsets me. I have never tried for children but I definitely want children, and although I don’t know what it must feel like to want children but know that you cannot have them, I do know what it feels like to desperately want children but thanks to your lifestyle, you feel like you are up against a complete brick wall and cannot see children as a part of your future (and I am not saying these two things are anywhere near the same, I’m just drawing on past experience). If this challenge was doing the rounds when I was in the midst of my previous situation then I would have felt truly heartbroken. But by the same token, people can’t be expected to conceal parts of their lives at all times for fear of hurting others. I don’t think it’s fair for the extremists cited in recent media articles to label the mothers taking part in this challenge as smug for doing so, they should take part if they want to and they should not have to conceal any part of their lives if they don’t wish to.

Of course, it sounds like there are one or two mums out there who are taking it too far and turning this fun challenge into a competition, and that I don’t agree with. In an article on the BBC website, it quotes a Mumsnet user, who is opposed to the challenge and who states:  “I would post: I’m far too busy bonding with my DC [dear children] over homemade crafts, trips to the beach and cuddles to do this. If you have time, you are clearly neglecting yours”.

My thoughts on that comment? Get off your high horse, please. From my point of view, motherhood is not a competition, no one is any better than anyone else, and those few women who treat it as a competitive sport actually make me feel ever so slightly jaded about the possibility of one day becoming a mother.

So, would I take part in the Facebook motherhood challenge if I was a mother? Well, yes, I think I probably would, knowing my track record of taking part in daft Facebook challenges. But I wouldn’t do it to rub it in or be smug, because anyone who truly knows me, knows I’m not that kind of person. I’d feel proud to have become a mother, something I’ve wanted to become for a long time, and as long as you’re not out there to brag, boast and say “I’m better than you”, then there is nothing wrong at all in celebrating any aspect of your life that you are proud of.

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Hitting Another Blogging Wall

I’ve mentioned in a previous post about that niggling little voice that occasionally pops up and makes me question my writing/blogging abilities (just one of the many things that little voice invites me to question when it decides to pipe up from time to time).

Well, today is one of those days when that doubtful little doubter is shouting at me, loud and clear. And sadly, I’m listening.

I often think about topics for blog posts that I would love to write, keen to satisfy my own love for writing and desire to discuss a certain topic, and keen to hopefully inspire others in the process, too. But then what happens to all those ideas I have? Very rarely do they come to fruition. I have a list in my phone that’s ever growing with blogging ideas but do I sit down and get some of those thoughts and ideas down on virtual paper? Do I hell. I let life get in the way for long enough, I ignore the fact that I’m letting life get in the way until eventually, that niggling doubtful voice pops up and tells me that this little old blog is a joke so I may as well just quit now. Draw a line under this whole thing.

I was chatting with a friend at the weekend about our blogging experiences and when we were talking, I was reminded why I set this humble little blog up nearly five years ago (wow – I didn’t actually realise it was that long ago until I checked!), and I was inspired to continue with it. But today, I haven’t been feeling quite so positive about it. I’m thinking about all the things I could have done with this blog in the past five years and all the things I haven’t actually done.

But I don’t want to feel this way. I don’t want to hone in on the negative. I want to see the positive in life and over the past few months I can tell I’m getting better at doing that in general, so I must continue with that practice. This little blog may not have set the world on fire – and nor should it need to in order for it to be worthwhile – but I want to continue with it. I want a little blog to be proud of, filled with authenticity, honesty and, well, me. After all, it is my blog.

I’ve read so many amazingly real and honest blog posts from talented bloggers lately that I’ve felt inspired to carry on and try to share my story more – not just the cake recipes, although I do find those fun to create when I’m not having a baking disaster and getting stressed about it.

What I think I’ve been doing is thinking of all the blog posts I’d like to create but then feeling scared about actually writing them in case they’re not just right, in case I’m judged. But like I said earlier, I want a blog that’s real and honest, and real and honest is right enough for me, I realise that now. And I also realise I need to stop being such of a bloody people pleaser. People will judge.

So, I’m putting this out there before I change my mind. I want to continue blogging, I’d like to hopefully meet new bloggers and become inspired by the many amazing stories out there. I want to live but not use the excuse that life is just getting in the way of me creating anything. I don’t want that little voice at the back of my head to have any more negativity to share on the matter. And so that’s what I’m going to aim for.

My Random Musings
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The A to Z of Baking: P is for Peanut Butter Layer Cake

20160116_150609First of all, as this is my first post of 2016, I’d like to wish everyone reading this post a very HAPPY NEW YEAR! Secondly, I’d like to apologise that it’s taken 25 days for me to send you this greeting… January has been cray cray busy so far.

Anyway, I am SO excited to share this latest recipe with you. I spotted this recipe nearly a year ago when the A to Z of Baking challenge was a mere twinkle in my greedy little eye. It is from the Good to Know website and dropped into my inbox in a newsletter that I still have no idea how I ended up on but hey, it’s worked out well.

I wanted to make this cake from the moment I spotted it but a peanut butter cake is a bit of a funny one, so I felt like I needed the right occasion to make it for. It’s kind of like what I imagine a Marmite cake would be like (wow, imagine that… it probably does exist *Googles Marmite cake*…) in that a peanut butter cake is not the kind of cake you could just rustle up and take willy nilly to a party or to the office bake sale. In a slightly less offensive way than Marmite, peanut butter is quite a ‘love it or hate it’ thing. So, if you flounced along to your local bake sale smugly displaying this little number, you could guarantee you’d get some looks of disgust from those who simply can’t fathom how peanut butter and cake could possibly go together (‘garlic bread? Garlic? and bread?’). And then when people were done shooting you daggers for daring to bring along a peanut butter cake to a public event, someone with a nut allergy would inevitably keel over next to the laboriously layered paper plates and napkins if you neglected to correctly display a sign saying ‘MAY CONTAIN NUTS’.

So, you see my dilemma – when exactly would be the right time to execute the P of my baking challenge? Well, thanks to the increasingly lengthy amount of time that is taking me to bat through this A to Z, it just so happened that the letter P fell around the time of my sister’s 50th birthday and she loves peanut butter! So that was it, I decided to make this cake for her party, since my new adventures into baking had already meant the responsibility of providing the cake had fallen to me. Also, I still haven’t mastered the art of sugarcraft – or even attempted it, let’s be fair – so I wasn’t about to start knocking together figurines out of royal icing that looked like they had been in a horrific car smash for the top of her cake, it would just be too embarrassing for everyone concerned.

Of course, I did worry that, for all apart from my sister, the arrival of a peanut butter layer cake at the birthday party would go down like a lead balloon, but I thought, well, birthday girl likes peanut butter so that’s the most important thing, it looks amazing and I can’t think of a third reason other than I reaaaaallly want to try this one out, so I made it. And on the evening of the party, I drank enough wine that I couldn’t feel any frosty glares from the peanut butter haters (I jest) and as the cake was cut and passed around, I drunkenly shouted out ‘It might contain nuts!’ to avoid any anaphylaxis incidents, so, you know, all bases covered really.

Anyway, I’ve jabbered on long enough about the dilemma of the peanut butter layer cake. Basically, it’s a brilliant recipe, go make it!

High points

Looks so impressive, and is something a little different so if you’ve got a peanut butter lover in your life, then you have to make them this cake at least once.

Low points

The frosty glares from the peanut butter haters. I jest again. This cake did take me a long time to make on the day of my sister’s party but then again, I don’t think the surprise gas leak we discovered we had in our house that morning helped matters as I ended up having to play on the ice in the garden with the cat for an hour whilst we were evacuated when I should have been whisking butter, but it is a time-consuming cake to make, gas leak or no gas leak. The only other downside was trying to get the peanut buttercream around the outside of the cake to look as flawless as it did on the original recipe ended up to be an absolute NIGHTMARE. In the end, I gave up and covered the cake with the chocolate ganache as instructed and no one was any the wiser.

*Sadly I didn’t get a photo of the inside of the cake because, obviously, it had to go off to the party in one piece looking presentable.

For the sponge:

  • 400g plain flour
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 150g light brown sugar
  • 1½tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g good quality cocoa powder
  • ½tsp salt
  • 300g melted butter
  • 1tbsp vanilla bean paste
  • 280ml water
  • 150g sour cream
  • 3 eggs

For the buttercream:

  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 250g smooth peanut butter
  • 2tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 400g icing sugar

For the ganache:

  • 200ml double cream
  • 130g dark chocolate
  • 2 packets of Reese’s Peanut butter cups
  • 1 standard box of Reese’s Pieces

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas mark 4 and line your cake tins with greaseproof paper. For the cake mix, whisk the eggs, vanilla and sour cream together. Sieve all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and beat in the melted butter and water. Add the egg mix bit by bit beating until you have a nice smooth mixture. Don’t overbeat or the cake will be greasy. Divide the mixture between 3 8-inch cake tins (about 540g in each pan) and bake in the oven for about 45-50 minutes, depending on your own oven. The cake will look ready when it has shrunk from the outside of the tins. Cool the cake in the tins for 10 minutes before cooling completely on wire racks.
  • For the buttercream, beat the butter and peanut butter together until light in colour and fluffy. Sieve the icing sugar into the butter mix and push in with a spatula before beating. This will stop you getting an icing cloud and be a bit less messy. Beat for about 8 minutes until the buttercream is smooth and shiny.

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  • If you have one, use a turntable to ice the cake. Start with a non-slip mat, a large cake drum (just so you can pick it up and move it around), another piece of non-slip mat and then a cake card (I placed my cake on a 12-inch cake card). Add a layer of icing to the cake card. If you do not have these, you can ice the cake on a plate or board.
  • Layer the cakes with a generous layer of the peanut buttercream. Give the outside of the cake one layer of buttercream and then pop in the fridge for 15 minutes to firm up.

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  • Remove the cake form the fridge and cover the top of the cake with the buttercream.
  • While the cake is chilling, cut a few of the peanut buttercups in half.
  • Remove the cake from the fridge and smooth any lumps or bumps with a hot palette knife, if you want a perfect finish. Dip it in boiling water and then wipe on kitchen towel before smoothing over the icing.
  • For the ganache, chop the chocolate quite finely and heat the cream on a low heat until it’s close to boiling point. Pour the cream over the chocolate and gently fold until it’s smooth and shiny. Don’t whisk the chocolate or you will get air bubbles.
  • Pour the cooled ganache over the cake gently teasing some drip around the edge of the cake. Add the Reese’s Pieces and Reese’s Cups to the top of the cake before the ganache sets.

 

My Random Musings
Mama-andmore

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The A to Z of Baking: O is for Oreo™ Cupcakes

IMG_6713I discovered this recipe in the Hidden Surprise Cakes book (Angela Drake) that I have used for a few other recipes, and I have made these cupcakes twice so far – once just as an easy sweet treat for pudding when some friends came over for a meal, and once again for my niece to take into Uni for her course mates when it was her birthday. Both times, the cupcakes got good feedback, they look impressive – especially when they are bitten into and you find the surprise Oreo at the bottom of each cupcake! – and they’re really easy to make.

So, without further ado (as it’s New Year’s Eve and we’ll all be busy with one thing or another – although, if you fancied, you could easily rustle these up for a NYE soiree this evening!), here are my high and low points for the recipe, and the recipe itself is below.

Wishing you all a very happy 2016, and many thanks for all the blog support throughout this year!

High points:

Very easy and quick to make, and look pretty impressive too, considering the little time and effort you have to put into baking the cakes.

Low points:

There aren’t many, unless you don’t like Oreos, then that could be a bit of a bummer.

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For the cupcakes:

  • 20 Oreo cookies
  • 115g butter, softened
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 115g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon milk

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • 230g full fat soft cheese
  • 110g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 230g icing sugar, sifted
  • 14 mini Oreo cookies to decorate

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases and place a cookie in the base of each case. Roughly chop the remaining cookies and set aside.

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  • Place the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat until pale and creamy. Gradually beat in the eggs, adding a spoonful of the flour  if the mixture starts to curdle. Sift in the flour and fold in gently using a metal spoon. Fold in the vanilla extract, milk and chopped cookies.
  • Divide the mixture evenly between the paper cases. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until risen, golden and firm to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.
  • To make the frosting, put the soft cheese and butter in a bowl and beat together with a wooden spoon until smooth and thoroughly blended. Beat in the vanilla extract, then sift in the icing sugar and beat again until the frosting is smooth and creamy. Chill in the fridge until needed.
  • To decorate, spoon the frosting into a large piping bag fitted with a large star nozzle. Pipe swirls of frosting on top of each cupcake and top each with a mini Oreo.
  • Halve the remaining mini Oreos, then finely crush the cookies and sprinkle the crumbs over the frosting.

 

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A Festive Baking Treat: Chocolate Banana Christmas Tree Cake

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Okay, so this recipe isn’t part of my A to Z of Baking challenge; it is instead a festive little treat!

When the folks over at Banana Moon, an online personalised clothing retailer, got in touch and asked if I would be interested in taking part in their Christmas-inspired banana recipe challenge, I jumped at the chance. It was the perfect opportunity to take the few things I’ve learned over the past few months of my baking challenge – which isn’t much, let’s be honest, I’m still very much a novice! – and create something with just a little bit of creativity from myself.

Banana Moon love to have fun and are really interested in everything Banana related. They have a Big Banana Bake Book – an online guide that sits on their website – which they ask bloggers to contribute towards, so I was just delighted to take part in this festive challenge.

I decided to take inspiration from a giant chocolate cupcake I made for the ‘E’ of my baking challenge and use parts of this recipe to create a giant Christmas tree, but with a banana inspired edge. I searched the web for banana frosting recipes and once I’d made the frosting, I added some green food colouring gel to give a Christmas tree look.

Despite a scary moment when I tried to pipe the banana frosting onto the top of the cake but then realised – as I saw it running down the cake, resembling more of a Halloween cake than a Christmas cake – that the mashed up bananas in the mixture meant it would be too wet to pipe on, the recipe turned out well. The addition of Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers around the base was a last minute one, due to the runny nature of the frosting, so a MASSIVE shout out to my boyfriend Steve for saving the day and dashing to Tesco to get some for me!

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients for the giant chocolate cupcake:

  • 225g butter, softened
  • 410g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs, large
  • 90g self raising flour
  • 280g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 90g Cocoa powder
  • 300ml milk
  • 45ml (3 tablespoons) vinegar (malt or white wine vinegar)

Ingredients for the banana frosting:

  • 60g butter, softened
  • 125g mashed bananas
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 500g icing sugar
  • A dash of green food colouring gel (I used Sugarflair ‘Green Apple’ colour)

To decorate:

  • One pack of Smarties
  • Silver sugar balls
  • One bag of banana milk bottles (I bought mine from Tesco)
  • Two boxes of Cadbury’s Fingers

Method:

  • First, prep up your giant cupcake tin, a really important step in getting the cake out whole. Spray cake  release is recommended as the easiest thing to use but I greased the tin with butter, making sure to grease every nook and cranny.  Place a circle of baking paper in the bottom of the base. Preheat the oven to 140c (fan) / 160c / gas mark 3. A longer, more gentle bake means that the cake doesn’t take on a hard, thick crust.
  • Measure the milk and vinegar into a jug, give it a quick stir and set it to one side. Cream together the butter and sugar until it’s nice and fluffy, no skimping on this stage. If you don’t get enough volume into it now, you won’t have enough to fill your tin.
  • Beat in the eggs one at a time, making sure the mix goes light and fluffy again after each. Now you need to mix in all the dry ingredients and the milk/vinegar mix until it’s evenly incorporated.
  • Time to fill up the tin. Fill the top first and fill it to about 2cm short of the rim. Now add the rest of the cake mix to the base section – this one will have slightly more space to the top of the rim but as it contains more mixture, it’s got more oomph to rise. Roughly level them both with the back of a spoon. Bake in the oven for 1 hour 10 mins – 1 hour 15 mins. Check the centre of the base section with a skewer and bake until it comes out clean.
  • Once out of the oven, leave the cakes to cool in the tin for 25 minutes before turning out. After 25 minutes are up, place the cooling rack on the top of the tin and then turn both over together. Give the rack and tin a firm tap on the work surface and carefully lift away the tin.
  • Once both parts of the cupcake have completely cooled, cut out a round hole in the middle of the base of the cake, being careful that you do not cut all the way to the bottom of the base. Keep the pieces of cake that you scoop out. Then, fill the hole (oo-err) with your banana milk bottles and then carefully place the pieces of cake back on top of the hole to seal the sweeties in.

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  • To make the banana frosting, cream together butter, banana, lemon juice and vanilla. Slowly beat in icing sugar and a very small amount of green food colouring gel to make a nice fluffy, spreadable icing.
  • Spread the frosting over the top and base of the cake using a spatula, then stick the chocolate fingers all the way around the base. Then, place your Smarties on the top to look like baubles and decorate with some silver balls, swirling them around the tree to look like tinsel.

Happy Christmas!

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The A to Z of Baking: N is for Neapolitan Cake

IMG_6774Wow, it’s been a busy few weeks and I feel like my head has been all over the place with so much to think about! Work has been really busy, we’ve been sorting our new house out, and then trying to fit in a social life, which I’m not complaining about at all, it’s just been all go!

Of course, throughout the last few weeks I’ve managed to shoehorn the next letter of my baking challenge into my life. A group of friends and I regularly take it in turns to host themed cuisine nights, in which we each take along a dish (there’s six of us, so it’s easier that way – saves one person having to cook for five other people!). So, when it was recently my turn to host an Italian themed night, I decided I could shoehorn the N of my challenge – the Neapolitan Cake I’d had my eye on making since the early days of the challenge – into the mix somewhere!

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For this creation, I used a recipe from the Hidden Surprise Cakes book by Angela Drake. It was simple enough creating the three layers of the cake, although I did naively use 8-inch cake tins when the recipe actually asked for 6-inch cake tins (I didn’t want to splash out on a new set of baking tins for potentially one recipe…), so the end layered result looked a little less like the beautiful dome shaped cake in the book and more like someone had sat on the cake.

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What I was concerned about was creating the two-toned, swirly pink and white effect on the buttercream (my piping skills are yet to see much improvement). However, when I got to it, the end result, whilst not perfect and more heavily pink or white in certain areas, was not half as bad as I expected.

I got some positive feedback from my friends – and hopefully not all of it was just for the sake of politeness! – so overall, it was a successful recipe. It’s not exactly a showstopping cake but it’s impressive, and simple, enough for dinner parties, birthdays, and a whole host of other occasions.

High points

The cake was a lot more easy to create than it appeared it would be on first glance in the book.

Low points

I stupidly used the wrong cake tins and thought, like I do with most things, that I could just blag it. Turns out I could blag it but the cake could have looked better and more ‘full-bodied’ if I’d used the right tin size. I’ll not learn my lesson in future though, and fully expect I’ll use the wrong tin size again, all for the sake of saving a few pence…

For the cake layers:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons hot water
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 225g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon strawberry extract
  • pink food colouring paste

For the buttercream:

  • 263g unsalted butter
  • 525g icing sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons hot water
  • Pink food colouring paste

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Grease 3 x 15cm/6-inch round sandwich tins (I used 8-inch tins as it was all I had).
  • Mix together cocoa powder and hot water in a small bowl to make a smooth paste and set aside.
  • Sift together the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and add the butter, sugar, eggs and milk. Beat with a hand-held electric mixer for 1-2 minutes until smooth and creamy. Weigh the mixture and divide equally into three separate bowls.
  • Beat the chocolate paste into one bowl of mixture. Beat the vanilla extract into the second bowl of mixture. Beat the strawberry extract and enough food colouring to give a bright pink colour into the third bowl of mixture.
  • Spoon the mixtures into the prepared tins and gently level the surfaces. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until risen and just firm to the touch. The chocolate sponge may need an extra 4-5 minutes. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
  • To make the buttercream, place the butter in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer for 2-3 minutes until very soft and pale. Sift in half the icing sugar and mix with a wooden spoon until blended with the butter. Sift in the remaining icing sugar and mix again. Add the vanilla extract and beat for 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture is very smooth, pale and creamy. Add the hot water and beat for a further 30 seconds to give the buttercream a silky smooth texture.
  • To decorate, use some of the buttercream to sandwich the three sponges together, with the chocolate sponge at the bottom and the vanilla sponge at the top. Spread a thin layer of buttercream around the sides and over the top of the stacked cakes. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Divide the remaining buttercream between two bowls. Use the pink food colouring to colour one bowl of buttercream deep pink. Use a spatula to spoon the pink buttercream down one side of a large piping bag fitted with a medium star nozzle. Spoon the white buttercream down the other side of the piping bag.
  • Starting at the base, pipe three rosettes of buttercream up the side of the cake. Repeat all around the cake until the sides are completely covered. Pipe rosettes in concentric circles over the top of the cake.

Enjoy!

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A New Chapter – Our First Home

11053186_10153273710183031_5350651125813099046_nI’ve made reference in my recent posts to a house move that I’ve been going through, and I thought it was high time I shared a little more about what’s been going on over these past few months now that things appear to be settling down a little bit!

It’s been a whirlwind few months, and I guess when I think back to, say, Glastonbury at the end of June, I never would have guessed that before the end of the year I’d be a homeowner for the first time. It’s fair to say it’s been a really exciting, but really unexpected, few months. Steve and I had talked on and off, after moving in together in his house at the beginning of 2015, about thinking about buying a house ‘in the future’, but it was a dream with no time frame on it and I know how easy it is for plans to drift when life gets in the way.

But, almost out of nowhere, at the beginning of July, we had a talk and agreed to stop halfheartedly flicking through the Rightmove app every once in a while with no further action, and decide to look with a bit more intention and actually go view a house if we liked the look of it online. Before this, we also decided we should get some more expert advice on what we could actually afford and it was a good job we did so, because those houses we’d been halfheartedly looking at previously were waaaaaaaay out of our budget!

So, the second house we went to view was the one we both fell in love with, although I really didn’t like the look of it online and wasn’t at all bothered about coming to see it – thank goodness Steve thought otherwise. Because it wasn’t being lived in at the time, it looked soul-less and empty to me in the pictures online; it looked like it didn’t have a story to tell. But, when we saw it in reality, we saw a blank canvas and a place to make our own and fill with our own stories. We agreed that it might be a long while before we found anything else that we both liked so much, so what the hell, we put an offer in.

Celebrating getting keys by drinking prosecco from tiny tumblers - the only thing we had to hand at the time!

Celebrating getting keys by drinking prosecco from tiny tumblers – the only thing we had to hand at the time!

One thing lead to another, as they say, and we moved in at the end of September. This house move was my third move in two years and after wanting to lay down some roots for a good while longer but never having owned a property before, this felt like a really special move for me, and one I really wanted to savour.

Although the whole process was pretty quick in comparison to what house moves can be, it wasn’t without its stresses. For the first couple of weeks of living in the new house, I think we were both numb – and really busy – and it didn’t really feel like ‘home’, although it didn’t feel completely alien either. I’d expected a big ‘It’s ours!!!!’ moment but that didn’t really happen. I did have little fleeting seconds of feeling ‘oh my, I cannot believe this is our house’ but then that was very quickly followed by a horrible sense that something was going to go wrong, or that someone was going to march through the door and tell us to get out, that this wasn’t our house after all.

Now, after just over a month in our new house, we are settling in better. We’ve been decorating some of the rooms and making our mark on the house. It’s been fantastic to have those brief moments of looking at something we’ve just finished together and thinking ‘good work, team!’. We’re slowly warming the house by inviting family and friends over, but have now decided to have a full on housewarming party at the end of January, after the rush of Christmas is over. I’m excited but a little nervous about the party – oh, my carpets! I’m seriously trying to suppress the Hyacinth Bucket in me whenever I think about what could happen to our cream carpets at the party…

Time for a new chapter…

Even though I’m 31, I’ve rented all of my adult life and done very little in the way of home improvements, so it’s fair to say I’m a complete novice at all of this, but I’m enjoying it on the whole! I’ll share any mishaps, tips, things to try or things to avoid as we continue to build our home over the coming months but for now, as we embark on a new chapter, I’ll leave you with a few things I’ve learned so far as a fledgling homeowner:

  1. Hanging curtains is an absolute faff if you don’t know what you’re doing – and neither Steve nor I did! We bought some God awful cheap curtains from Dunelm (although I will say Dunelm has been amazing for most other things on this journey) to ‘put us on’ until we decorated the bedroom and they looked crap once we’d put them up! Plus, they kept falling off the hooks whenever we opened or closed them. We then found out a couple of weeks later, after Steve told his mum how rubbish they were, that we’d actually attached the curtain hooks to the string that pulls the pleats together and not to the bit that you’re supposed to hook them to!! Curtain fail.
  2. As above, Dunelm is amazing for a lot of things and is not the cheap bargain basement that I’d once thought it was in my naive state.
  3. They’re not lying when they say house moving is one of the most stressful things you can do. I thought, because I’d moved around so much in the past, that this would be a doddle. But moving into your very own home  for the first time is something else. It’s obviously bloody expensive, and I’ve found I’ve wanted everything to be just right. The Hyacinth Bucket in me has been having a field day – and this can sometimes lead to a bicker…!
  4. Having family and friends round to your new home is without a doubt the best way to make it feel a little more like yours, and make you feel happier and more relaxed, fact.
Mama-andmore

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The A to Z of Baking: M is for Mocha Cupcakes (With a Personalised Edge!)

phonto(2)My partner Steve recently celebrated his last day in his job before moving on to pastures new so to mark the occasion, I offered to bake him some cakes for the whole obligatory ‘take sweet treats in for your colleagues on your last day’ kinda thing. He’s a massive coffee monster (sorry Steve, if you’re reading this, but, well, you are! ;-) ) so I decided to try out a luscious looking mocha cupcakes recipe. Do I need to even say where I found the recipe from?! If you’ve been reading previous posts you’re sure to have guessed it! (I promise my next recipe in the challenge will NOT be from the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book, for a change…).

To give these cupcakes a personalised twist for Steve, we decided to have edible cupcake toppers printed with a picture of his face on them. Steve chose the picture and went for one of him at work in his ‘gaffer’s chair’, which has now taken up residency in our new home. I’m sat in it now, playing the ‘gaffer’ as I type this post. I don’t often get chance to sit in the chair, as it’s usually occupied by either Steve or the Cat, but both of them have gone out! Hopefully not together, though…

Anyway I digress. There are plenty of places online where you can have your personalised cupcake toppers printed but I opted for My Cupcake Toppers, who gave a great, speedy service and send you a proof of your toppers via email for your approval before posting them out to you. The image we sent was a low-res image taken on a phone, so it wasn’t fantastic quality but My Cupcake Toppers did a great job with what they had to play with. (I’m not on commission to say that, by the way).

The cupcakes went down a storm in Steve’s office and although the recipe made a HUGE batch (16 in total), he didn’t come home with any spares, so that’s surely a good sign!

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High points

So easy to make, and you get a lot of cupcakes out of this recipe.

Low points

Not too sure, really. The cupcakes don’t look stunning or showstopping by any stretch of the imagination, but they looked personalised enough for the occasion in hand.

For the cupcakes:

  • 240ml milk
  • 15g hot chocolate powder
  • 5g espresso powder
  • 80g soft unsalted butter
  • 280g plain flour
  • 1tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4tsp salt
  • 2 eggs

For the frosting:

  • 50ml milk
  • 30g hot-chocolate powder
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 160g soft butter

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 190 degrees, gas Mark 5. Line a muffin tray with muffin cases.
  • For the sponge, warm the milk without boiling it, then remove from the heat and stir in the coffee and hit chocolate powders until dissolved. Set aside.
  • Using a electric whisk, freestanding mixer or by hand, mix butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt together until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. If mixing by hand like I did, cream the butter and sugar first to get an even texture.
  • Break the eggs into a jug, pour in the flavoured milk and whisk together by hand. Pour 3/4 of the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Continue mixing in the freestanding mixer or by hand until you have a smooth batter. Add the remaining milk mixture and mix until all the ingredients are incorporated.
  • Spoon the batter into paper cases to about 2/3 full. Any leftover mixture can be put into extra cases. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes or until risen and springy. Take them out and poke a cocktail stick into the centre, if it comes out clean they are done. Leave to cool completely before adding frosting.
  • To make the frosting, warm the milk in a saucepan and add the chocolate powder until well dissolved. Set aside and allow to cool completely.
  • Whisk the icing sugar and the butter with an electric mixer or by hand until the mixture is sandy textured. Whisk in the flavoured milk and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes light and fluffy.
  • Smooth the frosting over the cupcakes with a palette knife, making a swirl in the frosting.
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The A to Z of Baking: L is for Loved Up Cupcakes

imageIt’s been a crazy few weeks as we have moved into a new house (a particularly monumental event as it has meant a move into the first property I have ever owned – a homeowner at last!), and then there was the 10k run to prepare for. So it’s fair to say that my baking challenge has taken a bit of a back seat of late, however before we upped and left our old house I did find time to make one last creation.

I was thrilled when a friend of mine, who is getting married next year, asked me to be bridesmaid for her. She recently invited her bridesmaids round for an evening of bubbles, bridesmaid bonding and trying on our dresses for the big day (the dresses are simply gorgeous, by the way), so I thought what better sweet treats to take with me than ‘Loved Up Cupcakes’?!

I decided to give red velvet cupcakes a go from my fave baking book – yes, you guessed it, the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book, then I planned to give the cakes a loved up edge by decorating the tops with assorted love heart decorations.

imageI was pretty confident that my red velvet cakes would turn out to be a pretty vibrant colour because I planned to use food colouring paste rather than liquid, and I’ve been told this is usually a successful move. But instead, the cakes ended up this rather murky red-tinged brown!

I felt pretty pushed for time when decorating the cakes so they didn’t look quite as pretty and polished as I’d hoped and after the raging success of my previous KitKat Cake, this recipe felt like a step backwards, but this challenge is all about sharing the good, the bad and the ugly of my creations with you!

High points

I must say though, as ever the Hummingbird Bakery recipe was easy to follow and tasted lovely, a lot better than it looked.

Low points

I was disappointed with the red velvet effect, or lack thereof.

For the cupcakes:

  • 60g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 10g cocoa powder
  • 20ml red food colouring paste (I used Sugarflair Velvet Red paste)
  • ½tsp vanilla extract
  • 120ml buttermilk
  • 150g plain flour
  • ½tsp salt
  • ½tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1½tsp white wine vinegar

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • 300g icing sugar, sifted
  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125g cream cheese, cold
  • A  dash of pink food colouring paste (I used Sugarflair Baby Pink paste)

To decorate, I used:

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3.
  • Put the butter and the sugar in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy and well mixed. Turn the mixer up to high speed, slowly add the egg and beat until everything is well incorporated.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, red food colouring and vanilla extract to make a thick, dark paste. Add to the butter mixture and mix thoroughly until evenly combined and coloured (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula). Turn the mixer down to slow speed and slowly pour in half the buttermilk. Beat until well mixed, then add half the flour, and beat until everything is well incorporated. Repeat this process until all the buttermilk and flour have been added. Scrape down the side of the bowl again. Turn the mixer up to high speed and beat until you have a smooth, even mixture. Turn the mixer down to low speed and add the salt, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. Beat until well mixed, then turn up the speed again and beat for a couple more minutes.
  • Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until two-thirds full and bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 mins, or until the sponge bounces back when touched. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean. Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
  • Meanwhile for the cream cheese frosting: Beat the icing sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 mins. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.
  • When the cupcakes are cold, spoon or pipe over the cream cheese frosting on top (I chose to give piping a go this time).
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We Did It!

11984558_1029268297107152_329793847_oIt’s official guys, last week my partner Steve and I completed our first 10k race, all in aid of Diabetes UK. I’m not usually one to blow my own trumpet but I am proud to say that we absolutely smashed it!

We took part in the Great Yorkshire Run 10k in Sheffield on Sunday 27 September and as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, I was feeling more than a little nervous about it as I’m not a seasoned runner and certainly no 10k running pro.

But the day came and I felt excited, nervous and apprehensive all at once. As we gathered at the start line, I was scared but also felt so excited to just get going. I never thought running would make me feel so excited, I used to bloody hate it. The atmosphere was fantastic in Arundel Gate, Sheffield, with supporters standing at the sidelines and cheering everyone on. As we set off, I felt confident, carried along by the sea of fellow runners. We ran all the way along Penistone Road in Sheffield and I was surprised, even though I was effectively running on my own and not chatting to anyone, that I felt relaxed and there was no urge for me to stop like there usually is. That little voice in my head that wants me to slow down, stop running, just generally stop this madness had packed its bags and gone on holiday somewhere and it felt great. I ran a backwards version of the route that I usually take to work, thinking proudly to myself ‘I usually drive down this road in a morning and here I am now, running it.’ I ran past bands playing music to cheer us all on and even jogged alongside a man in a huge chipmunk costume for some of the way (big respect to him for being able to run in that).

As I reached the 5k mark, I spotted the first supporter that I knew – my manager from work and his family. The cheers they kindly gave me really spurred me on again at a point when I may have otherwise begun to flag.

12045717_10153664561373615_7241481359606691221_oAt the 8k mark, I spotted my friends and their two children at the side of the road, and to my delight they had made me a banner! My friend and I have a long-standing joke about our mutual annoyance at the over use of the ‘Keep Calm’ brand (it’s used for everything – just stop it now!!) so she had crafted me a ‘Keep Calm’ banner and her adorable children were there holding the banner. *Heart melts*

Just as I rounded the last corner and was about to take on the hill that ended the race (and the one which I was warned about by a few people beforehand), I took a deep breath and prepared to go for it. Then, I felt a tap on my shoulder and Steve, who was in the group behind mine and so started the race five minutes after me, smiled at me and promptly overtook me. ‘Nooooo!’ I thought, ‘I must chase after him’, but as soon as I tried to sprint, I realised it was just too ambitious, so I returned to my plod and let him shoot off.

Crossing the finish line, I couldn’t keep a big smile off my face, it was an amazing feeling! Later I discovered when looking at the official results on the website, that I had completed the race in 01:05:12 and Steve had completed it in 01:00:44. Definitely a PB for both of us!!!

What’s more, we’ve managed to raise £283 to date for Diabetes UK, which has smashed our original target of £200.

So, without wanting to turn into a running bore (I promise I won’t!) I now feel like I could be hooked and am already counting down the days until Monday 5 October, when  I can sign up to my next 10k race – the Percy Pud Run, Sheffield, in December 2015. (Although after seeing the official footage of me crossing the finish line yesterday, that was almost enough to put me off stepping into my running shoes again. I looked like a hunchback throwing myself over the finish line.)

I’ll keep a little quieter about the next race on the blog, but I just wanted to share this milestone fitness achievement and would like to thank everyone who has offered kind words of support through my blog ahead of the race.

Massive thanks to everyone who has sponsored us and donated money to Diabetes UK, or who has offered  – you are all lovely people!! Huge thanks also to friends and family who came to cheer us on on the day, that completely made it for us!

Mami 2 Five
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